Between 21 and 30 July 2008, The Extreme Cellists undertook their first international venture - the Four Peaks Challenge. This involved performances at the top of the tallest mountains in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike), Wales (Snowdon) and Ireland (Carrauntoohil) - a total of 4,445m (14,581ft) of climbing!
The challenge raised over £5,500 for two causes: Aspire, a charity who help rehabilitate people with spinal cord injuries, and Mountain Rescue (split between organisations in the four countries represented by the challenge).
Below is a set of excerpts from our blog that we kept during the trip...
Friday 18 July
Well, we've just come from an exhausting morning of media work - we were on BBC Breakfast first, and we've just done 11 radio interviews too! This follows on from Clare & Jeremy's appearances on Radio Sheffield and Look North yesterday... but now our attentions turn to the mountains themselves.
The weather forecast for Monday doesn't look too good - although we're well aware that the weather in the Highlands can often bear little resemblance to what's going on nearby, even on the next peak along! So we'll just have to see what we get.
Thanks to all for your support so far - we'll keep you updated as we go along.
Comment of the day: "We've all got big ones!" (Clare, on one of the local radio interviews...)
Saturday 19 July
Well, we set off in the morning, so are just undergoing our final preparations. I'd like to say it's gone smoothly, but unfortunately that would be untrue...
All was fine until we went to collect the minibus yesterday. Aston Students' Guild had very kindly agreed to lend us a minibus for the duration of the challenge: this was great, until we went to fill it up with fuel. As we unlocked the bus after filling up, the key snapped in the lock (possibly from the shock of the price of diesel these days?)... fortunately we were still close to the University, and they had a spare key! Less fortunately, although the key would open the doors, it wouldn't start the engine. For a number of reasons that I'm not going to force myself to recall, we spent a couple of hours trying to get breakdown assistance but to no avail...
So, we had to abandon the minibus and have decided to take two of our own cars instead... it'll be a bit of a squash, but we should manage it! I should add that the staff both at the BP garage on Watery Lane, Birmingham, and at Aston Students' Guild were exceptionally helpful and supportive... and at least it happened there, rather than somewhere in the Highlands on Sunday afternoon!
Oh well, off to Scotland tomorrow... here's hoping the weather forecast for Monday is right, as it's looking better now! Ben Nevis here we come...
Sunday 20 July
Well, we've arrived in Scotland. The weather is looking pretty decent - let's hope it holds!
The journey up was largely uneventful (apart from Jeremy missing a diversion after the M1 was closed!), and we got here in time for a delicious sausage pasta meal, followed by James' attempt at flapjack bobbing...
And so, we steel ourselves for the 1343m climb tomorrow - I think it's fair to say that we're all a bit apprehensive now, especially as we can see Ben Nevis from our hostel room. All being well we'll blog again tomorrow evening to let you know how we got on - and post a picture or two!
Monday 21 July, 2pm
We're at the top of Ben Nevis!
Got up here about half an hour ago, played for a while for a big audience with good weather and about to have lunch!
We'll say more when we get down later - thanks for all your support!
Monday 21 July, 7pm
We're back down safely. What a climb though! We were so lucky with the weather all day, and met some fantastic people on the way up, at the summit, and on the way down (including a professional cellist from Amsterdam!). Overall it took us 9 hours, including over an hour at the summit for performance, lunch and photos... 4 hrs 35 on the way up, 3 hrs 20 on the way down.
It's fair to say we're all hurting somewhat. Clare says in particular that her shoulders hurt, her back hurts, her legs hurt and her feet hurt. I doubt any of us could say honestly that we do not share the same feelings!
We'd like to say a particular thank you to our two sherpas today - Ashley and Caroline. Ashley will be with us throughout; Caroline was just here for Ben Nevis (we'll have others at the other mountains); but they both made things so easy for us. Well, I say easy - speaking relatively of course! I don't think anyone would claim climbing a 1,343m mountain was easy at any time, let alone with a cello on your back...
Quote of the day: "Are we nearly there yet?" (James, after we'd been going for about 20 minutes...)
Tuesday 22 July
We're having a rest day today, mainly in Fort William - this morning we went into Nevis Radio, a wonderful small independent local radio station, to do an interview and play a couple of pieces. We were delighted to find a large picture of ourselves on the front page of the Press & Journal, which we are told is the major paper in the north of Scotland!
And so our thoughts look ahead to Scafell Pike... the weather forecast looks good (in fact, perhaps a little too hot for ideal conditions), but we're well aware that can change pretty quickly so we're not counting our chickens just yet. We travel down tomorrow - there may or may not be a blog entry on arrival in the Lake District, but there'll certainly be one (with some pictures, hopefully) on Thursday!
Thursday 24 July
1pm - we've made it to the top of Scafell Pike, accompanied by three TV crews, a radio reporter and various family and friends!
Will say more later or tomorrow, but need to get down now as it's pretty cold!
Friday 25 July
Well, there's plenty to say now, as this is first proper blog entry for three days. We finished off in Scotland well (with a little haggis-bobbing from James), and then had a good journey down to the Lake District... to find Wastwater Youth Hostel is absolutely beautiful, but a nightmare for mobile phone reception! Normally I wouldn't mind that at all, but there were various arrangements to be made, not least with the media whose interest appeared to have picked up quite a bit.
So, we started the walk on Thursday, up England's tallest mountain, accompanied by TV cameramen from three local networks, as well as a reporter for BBC Radio 4 (and a dog!). The climb itself was as expected: hard, steep, but a lot shorter than Ben Nevis. So when we played at the top, we were slightly less exhausted than before and played for substantially longer - as well as doing plenty of TV and radio interviews.
We were really pleased by not only the media interest, but also their sensitivity in dealing with us: no requests to "just come up that bit again", which we had encountered on the Cathedral Roof Tour more than once! So many thanks to the journalists involved.
We had a good evening meal at the hostel, and then a game of French cricket with another family at the hostel! A good day all round.
Today we did our own things - either climbing some more hills (yes, really!) or exploring Cumbria at ground level. Down to Snowdonia tomorrow!
Sunday 27 July
We've conquered Snowdon! Played for a good while at the top, and are now on the way back down to play at Clogwyn station. Ascent took just over three hours, weather great! Will post more later or tomorrow...
Monday 28 July
Well, it was a great day yesterday, with Snowdon providing the largest audiences (and donations!) to date. There are a few more photos below.
The weather was fantastic - almost too hot, in fact - and we played for a good long while at the summit, along with some TA soldiers at one point (and managed to join in both English and Welsh national anthems with them); we returned to Clogwyn station (3/4 of the way up) to play for 45 minutes, and then played at the halfway cafe on the way down with a cup of tea! All in all, we took nearly 9 hours in ascent & descent, because of the performances and interest.
We finished off the day with a meal in a pub in Llanberis, and somehow managed to win joint first prize in their quiz too! So we'll be returning tonight to spend our winnings on another meal...
Next stop Ireland - we leave early tomorrow morning, have an interview at RTE radio on the way over, and should be in Killarney by late afternoon, ready to tackle Carrauntoohil on Wednesday!
Quote of the day: "You're the famous cellists!" (Random motorist at the start of our ascent - well, we're cellists anyway... not sure about the famous bit!)
Tuesday 29 July
We've now arrived at our hostel in Ireland (with more cosy accommodation than we've had previously), and are starting to contemplate the final leg of the challenge. The weather is gradually improving - after torrential rain and very loud thunderstorms last night, and some atrociously wet driving conditions today, we have some patches of blue sky to look at. Hopefully a sign of things to come.
Today was spent mostly travelling, with a stop in Limerick for an interview on RTE Lyric - actually going into the studio, which made a nice change. We've just had a pasta meal in preparation (with James having a go at some chorizo-bobbing), and will have an early night before the final climb tomorrow... will post again after we've done it!
Wednesday 30 July
Hurrah! We've done Carrauntoohil! Unfortunately covered in cloud, cold, wet and windy, but we did it!
Just on the way down now - we'll say and post more when we've really finished later!
Thursday 31 July
Well, it's now the morning after, and we've all completed it successfully! Carrauntoohil was definitely the hardest mountain of the lot - not the tallest, but the most demanding walking (a mixture of steep climbs, bogs, and ridge walking, mostly in difficult conditions: some rain, a fair amount of wind, a lot covered in cloud).
We were completely covered in cloud on top, so the pictures aren't as spectacular as they might be... however, I've posted three below to show what it was like! We did the whole lot, including the top, in seven and a half hours - not bad, we thought. At the summit, we gave our shortest performance to date (one piece only) because the cellos were getting a bit wet, and then had lunch, with a spot of champagne to celebrate (thanks Stefan!). We were greeted on the way down with some clearing weather, and spectacular views resulted - meaning we got decent views from all four mountains in the end - quite a result!
Needless to say, we celebrated last night with a pint of Guinness or three over a meal (before James and Jeremy both got thrashed at pool by some local 12-year-old), and slept very soundly! And so, we have a spare day to contemplate future possible endeavours...